I'm retired since end August 2016 and loving the new life! More time now for family and friends and to explore craft, history, travel and certainly more of a chance for, me-time. To paraphrase Seuss: I've no tears that (teaching) is over; but many smiles that it happened!
I’ve said it frequently: nobody does pomp like the British and this is certainly epitomised with their commemorations. Their annual Festival of Remembrance of WW1 on the 11 November is always particularly poignant. Having visited the Normandy WW2 cemeteries this year, Poppy Day was even more touching.
I watched the service in the Royal Albert Hall.
There were the usual quotes of some famous war poets:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.At the going down of the sun and in the morningWe will remember them.(from For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon)
Perhaps someday I shall not shrink in painTo see the passing of the dying year,And listen to the Christmas songs againAlthough You cannot hear.But, though kind Time may many joys renew,There is one greatest joy I shall not knowAgain, because my heart for loss of YouWas broken, long ago.
(from Perhaps 1916 By Vera Brittain, a nurse in WW1)
When you go home Tell them of us and sayFor your tomorrowWe gave our today
(composed at the end of WW1 by wartime codebreaker, John Maxwell Edmonds, often called the Kohima epitaph)
The idealistic slogan "The war to end all wars" from the H.G. Wells’ 1914 book The War That Will End War is usually used to describe WW1 little realising that the aftermath of that war contributed almost directly to WW2.
For many years we didnt acknowledge Poppy Day or its significance in many Irish lives. Happily, we’ve rectified that. The Irish Times today related the similarities of these past horrors with the catastrophe of current conflicts in the two articles on page 22 which emphasise the need for us all to take the side of PEACE.
Even in darkest places, there are those who keep a light shining
Thinking Anew: The horrors of the Hamas assault on Israel, and now of the bombing of Gaza, should not blind us to hope
I watched the film Invictus (again) recently, probably as the Rugby World Cup 2023 was in its initial stages. The film told the story of Nelson Mandela’s first term as President of South Africa who enlisted the national rugby team as a symbol of unity in an Aparthid-torn land on their quest to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Fast forward to Saturday, 28th October South Africa again emerged victorious, sweeping up many records as well as the Web Ellis Cup:
the first rugby nation to win four men’s Rugby World Cups
the second (after opponents New Zealand) to claim back-to-back title,
and undefeated by New Zealand in any Rugby World Cup final – twice they have defeated New Zealand in the final, in 1995 as Nelson Mandela’s dream and now again in 2023.
When I listened to the speech of their captain, Siya Kolisi, at the end of the match, it seemed as if Rugby is still as important and symbolic as it was in 1995. He made an incredible speech:
“Look what 1995 (and South Africa’s very first World Cup win) did for sport in our country. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that, and the people that came before me. The people that made it possible for people of my colour to play.”
“People who are not from South Africa don’t understand what it means for our country. It is not just about the game. Our country goes through such a lot. We are just grateful that we can be here. I want to tell the people of South Africa ‘thank you so much’. This team just shows what you can do. As soon as we work together, all is possible, no matter in what sphere – in the field, in offices, it shows what we can do. I am grateful for this team, I am so proud of it.”
“There is so much that is wrong in our country,we are the last line of defence… there is so much division in our country but this team shows what people of different colours and backgrounds can do when they work together”.
These sentiments were echoed by his team-mate Faf de Klerk: “Hopefully this shows what unity and team-work can do… if we can come together like this, it can be a better country, and be a better world.”
I know very little about the game of Rugby – but if it means that much to a country – surely they are worthy winners. As a YouTuber commented: This Springbok team was special, not in talent, not in skill….special as they will be everlasting in our memories.
Driving through the Phoenix Park one Sunday morning, I noticed a group of women all carrying large bags congregating at a small building. Curious, I found a parking space and approached them to find out what was going on.
And that’s when my adventure into the world of felt began, a world where you take some fibres, wet and agitate them, or prod them with specialized needles so that the fibres become entangled or matted, and thus create a completely new fabric.
Everybody who has ever washed clothes has, at least once, felted unintentionally – felting is another name for the shrinking that happens when you put that treasured wool jumper into “too-hot” cycle in your washing machine.
However, it’s the differences between accidental shrinking and feltmaking that cast the felting spell on you: in feltmaking, you take control of the results you achieve; you engage with a group of like-minded creative people; you learn through practice from craft masters as well as fellow practitioners; you make new and life-long friends and sometimes pieces of art that really please you.
International Feltmakers Association, offer classes that are specifically designed to hone your felting skills. I did some modules of CIFT (cert in Feltmaking techniques) and did see some improvement in my feltmaking.
(a) making felt from a variety of wools; (b) different edges
Workshops with fellow felters
Many fellow members of Feltmakers Ireland (FI) share their felting skills and techniques at workshops and Sunday Sessions. (a) Gabi McGrath delivered a workshop on textures and embellishments on a book cover; (b) Tamzen Lundy led members in a Christmas Workshop Sunday Session that was televised on RTE; (c) Liadain Butler, Niki Collier and Caoilfhionn O’Hanlon demonstrated how to use “Stained Glass” technique in needle felting. The work produced by the many participants was presented in the Pearse Museum and then at a Felt Festival in Vienna.
FI organises an annual Master class, often with an international practitioner (a) Boots with Natalya Brashovetska (b) My Place in Space with Marjolein Dallinga
I also attended Master classes with Wendy Bailye (50 Shades of Grey) and Anna Gunnarsdottir (3D Sculpture with Icelandic wool).
During Covid, many master classes were delivered online. (a) Molly Williams presented a series of classes on making Contemporary Dancers. (b) Aniko Boros (Baribon) Workshops taught a technique of nesting pebbles (or other objects) into fine felted jewellry. I used the technique to create a beach scene. (c) Yaroslava Troynich, a textile artist who loves felt and animals gives regular online classes on making puppets. I’ve worked with her to create sheep, hedgehogs, hares and foxes. Great fun! (d) the woven felted ball used a very exciting technique with pre-felt and was one of the workshops presented at a felting retreat organised by Corinna Nitschmann – a week of felting online with a variety of artists.
Annual Exhibitions, Art Sales
I support the annual FI Exhibitions by submitting pieces on a decided theme. My flower vase was an unsuccessful entry for the Something Red Exhibition but was later sold at a local exhibition. Pippi Longstocking was one of three pieces accepted for a members exhibition “Colour My World”. The “Pea Piece” as I called it (officially “Torthúil”) was part of the Bountiful Exhibition and resulted in my first commissions.
Swapping works internationally
IFA organises an annual swap. The theme is decided in May and the various participants (across the globe) are paired. Their pieces are swapped before a closing date and the results of the swap are published on the IFA website. (a) Woven is a vessel within a vessel, the interior being woven. (b) Brooch was made using the Baribon technique of nesting one item within another and inspired by Yeats poem Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of FI, all members were asked to submit flowers that would be displayed as a “Field of Flowers” at 2023 Exhibition as well as at future FI activities. I beaded my three flowers before submitting them. In the past, I participated in a Make Bunting project.
Passing it on
Lastly, but certainly not least, i loved the experiences and joy of sharing felting skills with the next generation. I made dolly blankets with 30 first class kids – a truly wet and wild experience. Here are some coasters I made with my grandson. I think any activity that involves sudsy water and throwing wet objects around is particularly pleasing to small ones.
This was Bram Stoker weekend and there were activities all around Dublin. The events I attended , while not directly connected with Bram or his character Dracula, celebrated blood and gore worthy of any horror story. Both took place in the National Museum.
Hands-on History: Malady, Mourning and Mystery
I didn’t realise that there were “hands-on” collections in the National Museum. They are taken out for particular events and occasions.
For Hallowe’en weekend the Museum educators presented a range of objects from the Museum’s handling collection that reflect a history of life, disease and death.
Stories about how bone marrow was extracted, the use of mercury to cure STD’s, mourning broaches which contained hair of the deceased, vials and measures of potions and powders, bandages, first aid kits, and booklets about health and safety.
I was particularly fascinated by the quotes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula:
I know what sorrows you have had, though I cannot measure the depth of them.
I fear no weapon wrought alone by man’s hand would have any effect on him.
There is a poison in my blood, in my soul, which may destroy me.
Now, little miss, here is your medicine. Drink it off, like a good child.
A world full of miseries and woes and troubles: Life, Disease and Death in Collins Barracks
The second event was billed as a tour with a Museum guide to “discover the chills, ills, and kills in Collins Barracks’ 300-year long history”. Our guide told a detailed and very graphic story of the trials and tribulations of life as a soldier living in the Barracks from the 1700s until the late 1900s, with a focus on (ill) health, as well as the transition from one of Europe’s oldest occupied Barracks into one of Ireland’s National Museums.
It certainly lived up to expectations. The horrors of Dracula are nothing compared to the grim stories of the residents of this building over the years.
I hadn’t realised that our overpopulated country of the late 1700’s provided the Commonwealth with a steady valuable resource – man power. Over half the British army was Irish and they carved out the Empire, playing a significant role in the Napoleonic war, Crimean War, Zulu War, Boer War and WW1.
The Royal Barracks, as it was called, was one of the oldest and largest inhabited barracks in Europe, housing up to 1500 men and two troops of horses. Life was hard for the ordinary soldier, with harsh discipline and cruel punishment for infringements. The Provost Jail was quite literally two black holes dug under the Provost House for about five prisoners each but frequently accommodating forty to fifty.
Living accommodations was dangerously inadequate and the levels of disease very high. A limited number of families were housed in the most unsanitary conditions of the barracks. Cholera and Typhoid were rampant.
When their husbands were away fighting, the women also faced frequent attacks from soldiers on the base. Life for wives and children in the slums outside the barracks was even worse with their husbands absent for years, many of the women were forced into prostitution. The Lock Hospitals which were established close to many military barracks caused huge social problems as women could be incarcerated there for many months for merely living beside the barracks.
Hundreds of prisoners were housed in the barrack prison after each of the many Irish rebellions. Our guide described the severe methods of interrogation and torture practiced, very often for the entertainment of the troops rather than for information gathering. Flogging with “the cat” was common. Edward Heppenstall, “the walking Gallows” gave many performances of his skills in the barracks square. Pitch capping was also a frequent source of amusement.
STEPHEN STOKES TAPESTRY
We were all delighted to escape the stories of misery and disease, when our guide took us inside to see the Stokes Tapestry. British army soldier Stephen Stokes made this amazing textile while he was stationed in Ireland.
More than 30 panels tell the story of his career, first in the cavalry (the Royal Dragoons) and then in the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Stokes spent more than 15 years working on the tapestry and showed it to Queen Victoria when she visited in 1849.
He omitted telling her of his Irish sympathies, although they were cleverly hidden in the tapestry.
The Royal Coat of Arms is depicted with the shamrock intertwined with roses and thistles all coming from the same stem. I doubt Queen Victoria would have supported its display at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851
I retired in 2016. That September was the first, since I’d started Junior Infants in Warremount that I wasn’t at some school gate – Warrenmount for Junior Infants, Assumption, Walkinstown for the rest of Primary, Goldenbridge for Secondary, Carysfort College, Weavers Square to begin my teaching career, Ballycane as a mum with the lads, a number of Kildare schools as a sub and temporary teacher until my last permanent appointment to Scoil Choca, Kilcock.
As a massive believer in lifelong learning, it was only natural in September 2016 I would undertake some learning experience.
I chose a course in weaving at Ballytoughy Loom, Beth Moran’s studio on Clare Island, Co Mayo. Beth’s passion for weaving came across in her advertising of the course. The island venue was also an attraction.
I had some limited experience with weaving. I had attended a week-long Teacher’s summer course in Gorey with Terry “the weaver” Dunne in 1998. The course was very much geared to providing classroom experiences for the students. We used very simple looms and I was delighted to come home with samples of bookmarks, placemats and pictures.
This time i wanted to experience weaving “just for me”. Beth’s studio was a treasure trove of yarns and looms. Although she gave really clear instructions on setting up the loom, I had complete freedom in the choice of yarn, the colour and the design.
I decided to make a table runner. Beth’s philosophy of “building a story, one thread at a time” was inspirational and she told lots of stories about technique and colour as we worked. I loved my choice of linen threads in reds, yellows and purples. I was particularly delighted that I completed my project and came home with a runner for my table.
A recent comment about my Blog – “Kudos on blog; fun site; poked around but found nothing wool-related”! – prompted me to write something about my journey in craft.
A short piece about Ellen Lambert, my granny, would have to preface any talk of my craft interest as she was my inspiration.
Ellen Lambert was born in Kereight Co Wexford in 1900, one of 10 children. It was a household where of great love of Irish culture, arts and history was fostered. This where Ellen learned how to do Irish crochet from her mother. She was attended Bree NS and then the secondary in Loreto Convent in Wexford town.
She went to England where she worked as a monitor (teacher assistant) in a convent primary school in Chorley, Lancashire. She remembered the factory workers going to the mills in the morning with shawls over their heads and their clogs clattering along the cobblestones. When I heard the song Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs about Lowry’s paintings, I often thought of my Grandmother’s descriptions of the cotton mill workers in Chorley.
I met a childhood friend of my grandmothers, Annie King, who had some wonderful stories about Ellen’s visits home – the excitement of seeing her fashion: “She was tall and elegant – a model, she had beautiful hats and coats, long flowing hair, and such a joy to behold at mass in Galbally on Sunday. Ellen was a favourite at home and away.”
Ellen missed home, however, and returned to Wexford just as the civil war was starting. She immersed herself in the politics of the time, joining Cumann na mBan, frequently helping out the local Flying Column keeping look-out, delivering messages, finding hide-outs, etc. She later married the commander of that Column, Robert Lambert, who was the love of her life.
In 2022 I answered a callout from the National History Museum to submit craft items and tools from history with the relevant story. I submitted this story with a collar crocheted by Ellen about 2024, and a single bootee (so much the worse for wear) that was crocheted in Tully North Queensland in 1927.
I am Ellen’s eldest grandchild. I started to knit and sew at home and then in school when I was quite young. Knitting at that time was taught to children in 1st class (aged about 6). I loved showing off my various craft projects to my grandmother when she visited.
Seeing my interest she taught me to how to do Irish crochet in the 1960’s- she wanted to ensure the skill went to another generation. I was always proud to visit her with examples of my work – doilies, gloves, collars, edges for hand towels. She also gave me some of her crochet tools which I have guarded carefully since.
I embroidered this tea cosy in 6th class (aged 12 ish). It had the same pattern front and back.
This year a participated in a stitch project where I’d to choose an old piece of work and “renovate it” – a take on the Japanese art of kintsugi. These illustrations show the old (c.1965) and the ‘renovated’ tea cosy (2023)
I used appliqué and some sashiko stitching on this old doily, probably done by my grandmother in the 1930’s as part of kintsugi project this year.
I continue to knit and crochet – it keeps the hands busy while I watch TV – I usually watch out for a charitable projects such as The Rotunda Octupus for Premies, Baby clothes for V de P, Knit a hat for the Homeless, etc and contribute.
I recently watched the film, All Quiet on the Western Front, the story of the horrors of WW1 from the perspective of German boys/men.
Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen published in the London Times in 1914 expresses the same sentiment of loss and horror from a British point of view.
For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, England mourns for her dead across the sea. Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres, There is music in the midst of desolation And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; They sit no more at familiar tables of home; They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound, Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, To the innermost heart of their own land they are known As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.
H.G. Wells, the British author, coined the expression: “The war that will end war” to describe World War One.
My visit to the WW2 cemeteries of Normandy with their thousands of crosses clearly indicate the fallacy of Well’s statement.
In these recent days, we see the atrocities being perpetuated in the Middle East, the media opinions on who is right and wrong, who started it. Apportioning blame, justifying violence, seems to be the order of the day. But I wonder who speaks for peace? Where is the voice of the moderate?
Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading Colm McCann’s book, Apeirogon, based on the friendship between a Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, and an Israeli, Rami Elhanan: “An Israeli, against the occupation. A Palestinian, studying the Holocaust.” The men are united in their grief – they lost their daughters: Smadar, turned into “a scattered human jigsaw” at the age of 13 by a suicide bomber, and Abir, assassinated aged 10 by a trigger-happy member of the Israeli army. Both men join the Parents Circle, a group of bereaved parents who unite in their sorrow to press for a peaceful resolution to the conflict: “This became their jobs: to tell the story of what had happened to their girls.”
Apeirogon, a mathematical term for an object of an “observably infinite number of sides” is a most apt title for a book that addresses the entrenched positions in the Middle East with a stance that is on both sides and neither.
I spent the morning rambling around the town. I found an old church dedicated to St Patrick, where an old guy with as much English as I had French, was more than interested in telling me about the church’s history, the stained glass windows especially those depicting scenes from the life of Patrick, the banner of St Patrick from the 17th century and the new sculpture of the Saint.
Vieux Bayeux was my next destination. Although there was supposed to be a marked route, I couldn’t find it and just explored myself.
What a pity our Irish towns have lost their “small town feel”. Bayeux has a selections of “Boulangeries”, coffee shops, small draperies, boutiques, curio and craft shops which make it a very typical French town.
Located behind the Cathedral, I found the Monument des Deportes, a memorial to the Bayeux inhabitants who were deported for being Jewish or members of the resistance and the camps to which they were sent.
The memorial carries a quote from the poet Louis Aragon:
Qu’importe comment s’appelle
Cette claret sur leur pas
Que l’un fut de la chapelle
Et l’autre s’y derobat
Celui qui croyait au ciel
Celui qui m’y croyait pas
(It doesn’t matter what the name is
This clarity on their step
That one was in the chapel
And the other evaded it
He who believed in Heaven he who did not believe in it)
Naturally, with my interest in textiles, the Bayeux Tapestry had to feature in the holiday. The tapestry tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 in 58 cartoon-strip style scenes. It took 11 years to embroider the 230ft long linen cloth.
It is displayed in an old seminary and the accompanying audio guide explains the scenes and the history of William the Conquerer’s life.
I had explored the idea of actually doing a tapestry class while in Bayeux and found Chantal James, owner of a little craft shop, Broderies Bayeux, a willing and excellent teacher. There were 2 of us in the class and although the teacher and the other student had no English, the language of craft is universal. I came away with “my Bayeux tapestry” and some knowledge of the stitches required to complete.
The evening was warm so I strolled back to the hotel along the River Aure.
After a swim and a read by the pool, I headed for my last supper in Bayeux.
Day 6 Normandy trip
A wonderful holiday comes to an end. After an early morning swim, some last minute shopping and a final stroll through Bayeux, I head for the train station. Travelling during the day is great as it allows you to see so much more than just your planned itinerary. The train stopped in Lisieux – I had planned on visiting here until first day went awry. C’est la vie. Arriving in Paris, Gare de St Lazare, even at rush hour, was easy enough to manoeuvre when I had time. And Charles de Gaulle was also a treat when you have time to look around. Would certainly recommend the trip to a solo traveller!
Mont St Michel is one of the most spectacular sights in Normandy, a craggy rock rising out of the sea, topped with ramparts, a town and an abbey.
Charles, our tour guide was fabulous. He had so many interesting stories about the geography, history, place names, social scene, etc. as well as a running commentary on the driving skills of our fellow road users.
He filled us in on the complicated 1000 year history of Mont St Michel guided us through the intricacies of the architecture of the monastery. We enjoyed walking through all the levels of the town and abbey and although there were lots of steps, Charles paced the climb to suit us all.
We were left to our own devices for the descent, with time for something to eat and some retail therapy. As at any UNESCO site nearly everything was overpriced but no complaints as the experience is so worthwhile.
The hotel pool was most welcoming when I got back to Hotel Luxembourg – before dinner in a nearby restaurant. Coincidently the couple at the next table (from Los Angeles) were celebrating their wedding anniversary, exactly the same as mine. Lovely to share a toast with them.
I did not have breakfast in the hotel this morning, instead I headed for Les Volets Roses, a quaint little restaurant in Vieux Bayeux beside the Cathedral. My photos could not do it justice to this little place so please follow the link.
I was in for a surprise when I crossed the road for Sunday Mass to find it was the feast of St. Fiacre (our Irish St Fiacra), their a hugely loved patron saint of gardeners and horticulturalists. The congregation wholeheartedly practiced a rousing hymn to St Fiacre in preparation for the procession of gardeners with their produce. Joined by the priest and servers outside the cathedral at the end of Mass, they were delighted to chat with an Irish visitor.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is visible from almost everywhere in the town and is a most amazing structure. I particularly enjoyed the amazing timeline of Christianity that was displayed around the back of the altar.
The tourist book advertised “le p’tit train de Bayeux”. However, it had crashed earlier in the season, so now the tourist had to get around “shanks’ mare”. The Musee Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie on the ring road was my first port of call. Although I had prepared for the holiday by reading Major and Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide, this museum provided an excellent chronology of the Battle of Normandy.
I continued along the ring road to the Bayeux War Cemetery. Containing 4144 graves, 338 of them unidentified, this cemetery was probably more touching than those visited yesterday (if that’s possible) as the headstones carried the names and ages of the dead as well as a comment from families.
The Bayeux Memorial to the Missing, opposite the cemetery, bears the names of more than 1800 men of the Commonwealth who died in the early stages of the Normandy campaign and have no known grave.
By this stage, I was in need of a ‘cidre’, so headed back into town, crossing Place Charles de Gaulle where de Gaulle gave his famous speech to celebrate the liberation of Bayeux.
After lunch and of course, cider, I searched out the Bayeux Lace exhibition in the Musee d’Art et Histoire Baron Gerard (MAHB). MAHB is a museum within a palace. The prehistoric to the Renaissance exhibitis are spread over 2 floors. I was particularly interested in the Lace exhibition- hand-made bobbin lace was introduced to Bayeux in the 17th century to provide employment and was soon catering to the luxury market.
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